Efforts to foster inter-Palestinian reconciliation took a significant step forward on Monday as Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, head of the Palestinian Unity Government (PUG), arrived in Gaza on Monday to take up administration of the strip, in the presence of Egyptian diplomats and intelligence officials.
The scene accompanying Hamdallah’s arrival raises questions around the Egyptian government’s agenda regarding the Palestinian issue, and its relations with the Gaza-based Hamas movement and the strip’s internal politics, particularly given the presence of General Intelligence Services (GIS) Head Khaled Fawzy and prominent GIS generals Hammam Abou Zeid and Sameh Kamel.
According to Palestinian political analyst Ibrahim al-Madhoun, “Cairo plays a key role in the Palestinian issue. The Israeli occupation cannot be confronted without first coordinating with Egypt. Internal Palestinian coordination, too, cannot take place without prior coordination with Egypt.”
He told Mada Masr that the Egypt’s agenda in Palestine encompasses reactivating the role of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the incorporation of all Palestinian factions in the political decision making process, including Hamas and former Fatah leader Mohamed Dahlan. Madhoun added that Egypt also aims to “prevent Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ monopoly of power.”
He referred specifically to GIS’s decision to back dialogue with Hamas and strengthening the relationship between the Gaza-based movement and Dahlan, who was also formerly head of Palestinian Preventive Security. The analyst asserted that there is an understanding with Palestine that the Gaza strip should not function as a gateway for any threats to Egypt’s national security.
This year has already seen Egypt and Gaza take tangible steps in this regard, Madhoun noted, from the construction of a buffer zone to security agreements.
In September this year, Hamas agreed to dissolve the Gaza administrative committee, which it had established to run the government, and hand power over to the PUG. However, some sticking points remain in the negotiations between Hamas and Fatah.
“It is clear that Hamas is insistent about overseeing all security issues in Gaza, and retaining its employees in their current administrative roles after the PUG takeover,” a source close to Hamas told Mada Masr, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I believe Egypt supports Hamas, at least in regards to administering Gaza’s security, particularly given the notable developments in Egypt-Hamas security coordination over the past year,” the source added.
Madhoun believes that an agreement has been reached between GIS and Hamas to address disagreements between the different Palestinian factions, adding that he thinks Hamas is prepared to deal with Egypt’s vision for the region.
According to the analyst, “Both sides have reached a mutual understanding to put disagreements aside and take time to address them, especially following 10 years of division which had a serious impact on both Gaza and the West Bank.”
Dahlan, the politician who was sacked from the Fatah movement in 2011, plays a crucial role both in in relations with Hamas and Egypt’s role in Palestine in general. The Hamas source said “this rapprochement could not happen without Dahlan’s input.”
“This is for two reasons: Historically, Dahlan has a good relationship with egyptian security. Additionally, he holds more sway over Fatah in Gaza than the officials who support Abbas,” according to the source. “There is also his good relationship with the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.”
Dahlan will play a part in the “new arrangements” in Gaza, the source added, referring to his role in the recent security coordination between Egypt and Hamas: “The political leadership in Gaza expects a lot from Dahlan, including lifting the siege on Gaza and security the strip’s financial needs.”
In June, Hamas agreed to the establishment of a 12 kilometer buffer zone along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, and installation of security cameras along the stretch of land to prevent any attempts to infiltrate Egypt from Gaza, and vice versa.
Both the Islamic State’s Egypt affiliate, Province of Sinai, and the Gaza-based Ibn Taymiya Center have criticized Hamas for the security agreements reached with Egypt, which they say is “besieging the mujahideen in Gaza.”
In August a Palestinian suicide bomber killed himself and one Hamas security officer in the border zone between Gaza and the Sinai peninsula. The Ibn Taymiya Center mourned the suicide bomber, claiming he had been on his way to sinai to participate in the fighting against the Egyptian Armed Forces when he was captured by Hamas, and prevented from crossing.
Translated by Mai Shams El-Din